Review: Young Chekhov – Ivanov, National

“People think there’s something deep about despair. But there isn’t”

With Platonov failing to even make it onto the stage in his lifetime, Ivanov came to be Chekhov’s professional debut as a playwright. As such, it bears many of the hallmarks of a writer still coming into his strengths – having identified what he wants to say to the world, he’s still working out the most devastatingly effective way of doing it. The first time I saw Ivanov has the distinction of being one of the first times I ever really enjoyed a Chekhov play, seduced as I was by Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal for the Donmar in the West End (which also had a little known actor called Tom Hiddleston in it…), 

I’d be lying if I said I could remember enough about Tom Stoppard’s version to compare and contrast with David Hare’s new adaptation here, but Geoffrey Streatfeild’s interpretation of the title character does feel a little less of an outright cock. Don’t get me wrong he’s still a Grade-A tool (misogynist, anti-Semitic, serial cheat) and ‘mid-life crisis’ remains the pathetic catch-all excuse it ever has done, but there’s a real sense of the depths of the black clouds of depression that lie over this Ivanov and the social pressures that has put him under that offer at least a little insight, if not outright sympathy, for his situation. Continue reading “Review: Young Chekhov – Ivanov, National”

Review: Young Chekhov – Platonov, National

“Whatever you do, don’t rely on your own judgement. That’s the worst mistake you could make

Platonov wasn’t performed in Chekhov’s lifetime and even in this radically adapted version by David Hare, I’m not 100% sure that it works. You can see the attraction in terms of the Young Chekhov context – a trilogy of the Russian’s early work – but for me, the main pleasure comes in seeing the benchmark from which his later genius advanced.

It’s not for lack of trying from Jonathan Kent’s production, lead by a sparkling performance of disreputable charisma from James McArdle as an unhappily married teacher intent on spreading his vodka-fuelled discontent through the bedsheets of most of the local community, not least Nina Sosanya’s Anna and Olivia Vinall’s Sofya, with little care for the impact of his actions. Continue reading “Review: Young Chekhov – Platonov, National”

Review: Cornelius, Finborough

“So all the time, while you were pretending to work, you’ve been having the most astonishing adventures in that corner?”

Continuing their well-trodden path of delving into the dusty shelves of neglected British plays, the Finborough have come up trumps yet again with this neatly amusing and unpredictable little curiosity Cornelius. Written in 1935 by J.B. Priestley, especially for his friend Ralph Richardson, it was something of a flop and consequently remains little produced – this will be the first time in over 70 years that the play has been seen in London – but Sam Yates’ production flows with an undeniably persuasive energy to make this a revival worth paying attention to.

Set in the Holborn office of an aluminium import firm that is struggling to avoid bankruptcy, junior partner Jim Cornelius sets about trying to keep the creditors sweet and the office spirits from flagging, in the hope that salvation will come at the last minute from the firm’s senior partner. He suspects it is a vain hope though and as he swings from poignant reflections on lives that have been lived and exuberant positivity in the potential that still remains out there, a delicately touching portrayal of office life emerges which is hard to resist. Continue reading “Review: Cornelius, Finborough”

Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Richmond Theatre

“That seeming to be most which we indeed least are”

Despite being one of Shakespeare’s more notorious plays, The Taming of the Shrew has enjoyed a long and varied performance history as productions seek to try to present this difficult tale of female subservience in a way that is acceptable to audiences. It has proved trickier though in modern times to square the misogynistic circle and so directors often find themselves upping the innovative ante to unearth interpretations which will prove satisfyingly revelatory. What this often means in practice though is that a high concept is adopted which offers insight into part of the story whilst the rest is left straining to fit in. Lucy Bailey is the latest to try and tame the Shrew here for the RSC in a production which has played a season in Stratford and is now on a short tour of the UK, currently here in Richmond.

The angle that she chooses to focus on is the Induction, the framing device that sets the story in its context – this is all just a performance being put on by a rowdy bunch of friends to delude the drunken fool Christopher Sly. Sly – a bumptious revealing turn from Nick Holder – is kept on stage throughout most of the first half and in some ways, this almost convinces us that what we are watching is but a drunken fantasy. But he is gradually phased out of the show, and so the apparent importance of being reminded that this isn’t real is stripped away and the second half played largely straight as a story that suddenly is to be taken more seriously. Continue reading “Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Richmond Theatre”